One in two South Africans have been infected by COVID-19: Study

South Africa COVID-19 /Getty Images

Around half of South Africa’s population may have already been infected by coronavirus, a figure far higher than the documented tally, a study and analysis of death figures suggest.

Samples taken from almost 5,000 blood donors across four South African provinces in January showed that between 32% and 63% had antibodies to the coronavirus.

The figure compares with clinically confirmed case rates of just 2% to 3%, according to South African research that was released online last week, but has not yet completed peer review.

The numbers could be understated, lead investigator Marion Vermeulen of the South African National Blood Service said, adding that people with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 are unable to donate blood for 14 days, and therefore less likely to be sampled.

According to Vermeulen, antibodies are a telltale of an individual’s exposure to the virus, but not a confirmation that the person has fallen sick from it.

Most antibodies were detected in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, which were both epicentres of South Africa’s second infection wave when it started in December.

Officially, South Africa has recorded close to 1.5 million coronavirus cases, of which just under 48,500 have been fatal – the highest toll in Africa.